South Africa spinner Keshav Maharaj said this week’s controversy involving Quinton de Kock 'taking a knee' had brought the squad closer and expected it to fire the team to a win over Sri Lanka in their Twenty20 World Cup clash in Sharjah on Saturday.
De Kock pulled out of Tuesday’s victory over West Indies after Cricket South Africa’s board directed players to 'take a knee' in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
He later apologised and committed to the gesture nL1N2RO0IC after stinging criticism back home and abroad.
But rather than dividing the squad, Maharaj believes the controversy has had the opposite effect and that the players have rallied around the 28-year-old De Kock.
"It has been a tough week, but the boys are mature and adult enough to adapt. The spirits were high today, there is that buzz and drive back after a long two days. Our focus in back on the cricket now," Maharaj told reporters on Friday.
"This has made us bond and gel a lot stronger. You will see more energy (on Saturday) than in the last two games. It has brought us together."
Maharaj feels De Kock is in the right frame of mind to perform.
"He is in a good space. It has been a tough week, but he is a mature character. We love having him in the team. No-one is a racist in our team. We respect everybody’s different cultural and religious beliefs."
The spinners are likely to be key again for South Africa on what Maharaj expects will be a slow wicket, with both teams in need of a win to keep their semi-final hopes alive.
"It looks like a good surface, maybe a bit low. Having said that, we must make sure we hit our lines and lengths. We know what is at stake in this World Cup. We leave everything behind us when we step over that rope."
Sri Lanka all-rounder Dasun Shanaka believes the team that wins the toss will want to chase.
"The Sharjah wicket is always two-paced. Chasing is somewhat easier because we can assess the conditions," Shanaka said.
"Hopefully playing two games here is in our favour as we can read the wicket really well, so I feel we are slightly ahead of South Africa."
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)